Feelings of depression cause us to become stuck in a cycle of repetitive thoughts and negative thinking. Whether we regret the past, are judging ourselves harshly, blaming others for our problems, or anticipating a bleak future these thoughts make us feel sad, ashamed, and angry. This is a perpetual cycle that prevents us from being motivated to move forward and solve our problems. Once we find ourselves in such a cycle, we start to feel worse because it’s so hard to break out no matter what we try to do to make things better.
Brain Processes Underlying Depressive Rumination
Stanford University scientists have recently started uncovering what’s happening in our brains when we’re feeling depressed. In July 2015 J. Paul Hamilton and his colleagues authored a study that was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. It was entitled, “Depressive Rumination, the Default-Mode Network, and the Dark Matter of Clinical Neuroscience.” Herein several previous studies were statistically combined to form the conclusion that people suffering from depression also had increased brain functioning in two main areas:
- The default mode network (DMN): This is the part of your brain that’s active when you’re worrying, day-dreaming, reminiscing, or otherwise focusing on yourself. It helps facilitate a wakeful state of rest in your ventral prefrontal cortex (PFC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).
- The subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC): This region of your brain is responsible for directing your DMN towards reflecting on and solving your most pressing issues in terms of your survival. It’s great when this helps you find new answers or take effective action, but it can also lead to negative thinking which results in depression. When this happens it’s because your PFC has gone haywire. This can result in you being unmotivated to engage with the world, which is what being depressed is really all about.
Ways of Combatting Negative Thinking
Instead of allowing yourself to become stuck in these patterns, there are some things you can do instead:
- Try Transcranial Magnetic Imagining (TMS): There’s preliminary research showing that this can help change abnormal functional connectivity within your DMN.
- Focus on a task: Regardless of what task you choose to focus on (e.g. cleaning your house, doing laundry, doing a crossword puzzle), this type of “on task” focus will deactivate your DMN.
- Go for a walk in nature: Bratman and his colleagues at Stanford University undertook a study in 2015 which was later published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.” Herein they discovered that a 90-minute walk in nature will decrease your negative thinking and the activity in your subenual prefrontal cortex. This is because it opens up your thinking whereas the same walk through an urban setting won’t have any affect on you or your depression.
- Force yourself to focus on your senses (what you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling): This deliberate action will keep your mind from wandering, thus deactivating the DMN.
- Practice meditation: This practice helps you gain control by focusing your attention on what you’re thinking about so you can redirect your focus when you find yourself engaging in negative thinking. One study looked at the brains of novice meditators in comparison to those who were more experienced and in doing so they found that those who were more experienced had less DMN activation.
Hopefully some of these things will help you overcome your depression. However, if you still need some help with your negative thinking make sure you reach out to the Advantage Mental Health Center. Schedule an appointment with them today so they can help you start feeling better tomorrow.
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